Polish Medal Winners in the History of European Championships

PJan Lipczyński and Elektron, European Championships, Horsens, Denmark, 1981/private source of Jan Lipczyński.

Strzegom, 26.06.2017 – 52 years ago, for the first time in history, rider representing Poland won the European Champion title in Eventing. Sixteen years later white & red team reached for bronze medal. Waiting for the prize giving ceremony of 33rd European Championships, which will take place in Strzegom in August, we go back through the history of this competition to bring to mind the biggest Polish achievements.

First European Championships took place in 1953 in Badminton in Great Britain. 40 riders from 5 countries competed that time but Polish team had to wait four more years for its debut in the event at this level. In 1957 in Copenhagen Jan Kowalski and Litawor finished the competition at 13th place. Two years after that in British Harewood white & red team was close to podium but finishing the competition at 4th place.

Marian Babirecki & Volt

First and so far the only one Polish rider who reached the highest step of the podium of Europeans was Marian Babirecki riding Volt. In Moscow, then capital of Soviet Union, in 1965 Polish rider was the best among 38 others and won gold medal. Although he was only 14th after dressage, great cross-country ride and clear show jumping gave Marian Babirecki the victory. There is a video record from this event available at Polish journals: (http://www.kronikarp.pl/szukaj,30638,strona-2).

Babirecki was considered to be the most comprehensive rider in the history of Polish equestrian after Second World War. He was not only successful show jumping, dressage and eventing rider but also jockey who was second in Velká pardubická in 1956. After the end of his athlete career Babirecki moved to Cuba where he was couch of national equestrian team. After few years, he stepped back and worked in trained profession of wood engineer. Babirecki was also a scuba diver and during one of his diving session in Atlantic Ocean he died tragically.

Medallists form Horsens

Polish equestrian fans had to wait for another success till 1981 the year when top eventing riders competed in Horsens in Denmark. White & red won bronze medal in team classification.  The authors of this success were: Mirosław Szłapka and Erywań, Jan Lipczyński and Elektron, Krzysztof Rafalak and Dajak, and Mirosław Ślusarczyk and Ekran.

For Jan Lipczyński, then 24 years old, it was the first event at Championship level.   ”In early ‘80 Polish riders started to have some achievements in international competitions so heading towards Championships we had combat-ready attitude but we didn’t consider ourselves as possible winners,” he recalls. ”Taking part in Europeans was a huge experience for us. Going through the cross-country course at this level was making big impression even at the well experienced eventers. The format of the competition was completely different at that time. The cross-country phase had a different level of toughness, different distance, which was close to 30 km, also fences had different dimensions, huge ‘waggons’ were jumped. Nowadays the difficultness of the cross-country is about technical tasks, not the size of the fences and for this reason the safety of riders and horses has grown. It used to look totally different. The toughness of the cross was determined by the size of the fences and falls were not unusual.”

”The dimension of some of the fences were so large that sometimes, after official course inspection, they were changed,” recalls Krzysztof Rafalak, who was also debutant at the Championships level in Horsens.  ”I was the last one starting in the team. After Mirek Ślusarczyk misfortune on the cross-country course, I felt pressure to do everything to finish my ride so that we could be classified as a team.”

Seven national teams taking part did not survive till the end of competition; only six managed to do that.

”It was a very challenging competition. 40% of the horses didn’t complete it. Two of the fences were especially difficult: bascule bridge and triple bar and those two caused most of the problems,” recalls Mirosław Szłapka, who a year before Horsens Championships competed in Olympic Games in Moscow and was placed six there.  ”I still remembered the level of toughness of cross-country course in Moscow so the one in Horsens was friendly in my opinion. Hilly terrain was similar to Biały Bór land where we had training camp before Championships. Contrary to the one in Moscow this cross-country was fair for horses.”

Mirosław Szłapka in the individual classification was placed 5th. In the dressage test he was placed second by two judges and 19th by third. If the marks were all at the same level he would have a chance to stand on podium.

Bronze medal at European Championships for Seniors is so far the biggest achievement of Polish eventing after Second World War. ”After winning the medals we were euphoric, we had a feeling that the history is just happening,” says Jan Lipczyński. ”When the stress and pressures came down, we were extremely happy,” adds Krzysztof Rafalak.


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